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NRZ should rise from the ashes

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Former National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) general manager Alvord Mabena says the best way of turning around fortunes of the ailing railway company is to “destroy it first in order to rebuild”.

Mabena, who retired in 1999 after serving the railway firm for 20 years, told NewsDay in a wide ranging interview on Tuesday this week that lack of a clear vision and a skills flight had led to the downfall of the once thriving State enterprise.

Mabena joined the NRZ in 1980 as a mechanical engineer before being appointed general manager in 1990.

As part of his training, he enrolled on a strategic management programme in the United Kingdom.
He said what kept the parastatal ticking during his reign was a clearly defined work structure, goals and targets.

“We had a clear vision, not only for NRZ, but it was benchmarked on world standards and we logged onto the vision,” Mabena said.

“We marshalled resources towards the vision of NRZ, the transport sector capped that with investment in cut-edge professionalism.

“The investment was not only in equipment, but physical resources and systems required in the industry and we logged onto that.”

He said after putting everything in place, NRZ sought to understand needs of various players involved in the sector to make sure the company did not over-invest, while at the same time offering services at optimum cost.

Asked how long it would take to rebuild the parastatal, Mabena, who at one time was the president of the Southern African Railways Association, said: “My take is if we start now, we will need 10 years to put it back where it should be.

“I have been approached on so many times, but my feeling is I have done my national duty, it’s time others took over.”

He said his views should not be mistaken for criticism, but a necessity if the wrongs currently taking place were to be corrected. Mabena said he foresaw the demise of NRZ two years before stepping down after it emerged that there was political interference and lack of seriousness at the institution.

“As a result, almost 70% of the skills base is no longer there. The work culture has been razed to the ground. There is no more business mood,” he said.

Mabena won the 1993 Zimbabwe Institute of Management Manager of the Year Award.

In his parting remarks in 1999, Mabena told our sister paper the Zimbabwe Independent : “I am leaving the NRZ with a warm heart and no ill feelings against anyone.

“In life you get to a stage when you make a decision to move and for me this is the opportune time.

“I have no regrets because I have no doubt I’m leaving the NRZ in a better position.
“I count the culture of change at NRZ as one of my accomplishments.

“We took over a railways entrenched in the old era and swayed it through the commercialisation thrust.”

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